Graybill, Rhiannon. Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets. Oxford University Press: New York, 2016.
What does it mean to be “queer”? In her “Introduction” to Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets, Rhiannon Graybill lists the ways “queerness” has been used since Teresa de Lauretis proposed the idea of “queer theory” in 1991: “an updated form of LGBT and other related acronyms, as shorthand for a wide range of non-hetereonormative sexualities, as a marker of a particular politics or relation to power, as a verb to describe specific forms of scholarly and hermeneutic activity (as in the now common expression ‘to queer the text’)” (p. 6). Graybill explicitly avoids prioritizing one of these definitions; nor does she propose one of her own. Rather, she is interested in how queerness, in all of its polysemy, “works” in the prophetic texts. Her aim is to “trace the prophetic body as a queer object and to queer the prophetic body” (p. 7)—a project that is both queer and feminist. The result is an imaginative, illuminating investigation into the bodies of various Hebrew Bible prophets.
Chapters one through four of Are We Not Men? each focus on a particular prophet and puts them in conversation with relevant intertexts. Chapter one, “The Materiality of Moses,” outlines what the Hebrew Bible establishes as normative masculinity. This masculinity is aggressive, domineering, concerned with honor, and sexually potent. The body that performs this masculinity is strong, agile, powerful, and abled. While this masculinity is presented as an ideal, it is constantly under pressure and often destabilized. Moses’ body, with its heavy tongue, scaly hands, weary arms, and radiant face, is one site on which biblical hegemonic masculinity is contested. Graybill reads Moses’ body through the lens of femininity and disability, as well as a “queer assemblage” (a term from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 1980)—a body that is constantly in contact with and affected by other bodies. This reading contributes to Graybill’s focus on fluidity as a defining feature of the prophetic body. Chapter two, “The Horror of Hosea,” takes a fresh look at a prophet whose misogyny in chapters 1-3 has been analyzed from a feminist perspective nearly to death. Graybrill brings a new approach to the table, putting those chapters in conversation with the horror genre, specifically Carol Clover’s study on gender and horror in Men, Women, and Chainsaws (1994). The great contribution of this chapter is Graybill’s concept of “thinking with” women. As in horror films, tortured, broken female bodies (here Gomer, Hosea’s wife, and personified Israel) are not subjects in their own right, but rather they are used to negotiate the masculinity of the male characters.
In chapter three, Graybill considers Jeremiah’s prophetic voice as exemplifying the sort of hysteria Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer describe in Studies in Hysteria and Freud describes in “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria” (the infamous “Dora” case). While it is perhaps not intuitive to consider the “voice” as part and parcel of the “body,” Graybill makes a compelling case that Jeremiah’s hysterical (and thus, feminine) speech destabilizes the masculinity of his body. Chapter four focuses on the prophet Ezekiel. Graybill reads Ezekiel with Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of My Nervous Illness and identifies three parallels: the concomitance of prophecy and pain, how suffering is bound up in a crisis of language, and the havoc that disaster wreaks on gender. Most illuminating for reading Ezekiel is the concept of “unmanning” (German Entmannung) first described in Schreber’s Memoirs. “Unmanning” describes the transformation of the male body into the female form, including the feminine experience of both pain and pleasure. Finally, chapter five summarizes the major themes of the preceding pages: the necessity of disturbance (of gender norms), “thinking with” women, “unmanning,” fluidity and openness, and the queerness of the prophetic body. It also briefly examines two new texts which complicate these themes: the book of Jonah, an example of “prophetic failure,” and Numbers 12, the case of the female prophet Miriam’s scale disease. As it both summarizes the book’s major themes and provides examples of the sort of close reading Graybill does throughout the book, this chapter would be especially valuable for instructors of undergraduate or introductory classes who want to expose their students to Graybill’s ideas but are unable to assign the whole book.
Graybill’s monograph provides a welcome addition to the field of masculinity and queerness in the Bible. As she notes in her introduction, the prophetic books have been underrepresented in these burgeoning fields. The exceptions, such as Susan Haddox’s Metaphor and Masculnity in Hosea (2011) and Stuart Macwilliam’s Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible (2011) have largely focused on the use of rhetoric in the prophets. Her innovation is bringing the male prophetic body, not just prophetic words, under consideration. Graybill’s methodological approach opens up new and exciting avenues. Considering the prophetic books alongside modern intertexts that draw from a variety of fields, from psychoanalysis to film, allows readers to discover new sides to the texts heretofore unexplored. Her concepts of “unmanning” and using women to “think with” have great potential for application to other texts (biblical and otherwise). In such an ambitious project, some weaknesses are inevitable. Leaving the definition of “queer” so open (as Graybill explicitly does) means that sometimes the term loses its sharpness and begins to blur into other areas. In addition, occasionally text-critical specifics are smoothed over in service of her larger aims. For example, on p. 10, Graybill characterizes the nebiah in Is. 8:1 as a “female prophet” without interrogating the possibility that this term means something like “Mrs. Prophet” (see for example A. Jepsen, “Die Nebiah in Jes. 8:3” 1960) and on p. 135, she states that the contents of the song of Miriam in Ex. 15 are “lost,” when it is in fact not scholarly consensus that Miriam’s words in 15:21 were once part of a longer, independent work (see for example Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalm Studies, p. 287, n. 116). These issues are relatively minor, however, and do not detract substantially from her overall argument. As a whole, Are We Not Men? is a brilliant little book that should be required reading for any scholar of biblical masculinity and queer studies.
Sarah E.G. Fein is a PhD Candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University.
Clover, Carol. J. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
de Lauretis, Teresa. "Queer Theory; Lesbian and Gay Sexualities: An Introduction.” In differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3 (1991): iii-xviii.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum, 2004. (Originally published in French in 1980.)
Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Edited by Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.
Freud, Sigmund and Joseph Breuer. Studies in Hysteria. Translated by Nicola Luckhurst. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Haddox, Susan E. Metaphor and Masculinity in Hosea. SiBL 141. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.
Jepsen, A. “Die Nebiah in Jes 8:3.” ZAW 72 (1960).
Macwilliam, Stuart. Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible. BibleWorld. Sheffield and Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2011.
Mowinckel, Sigmund. Psalm Studies, Volume 1, SBL Press, 2014. (Originally published in German in 1961.)
Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. Translated by Ida Macaplpine and Robert A. Hunter. New York: New York Review, 2000.